Another fine brace at Spa

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Two weeks since their triple podium success at the opening round of the World Endurance Championship at Silverstone, Aston Martin Racing were setting their sights on continuing that success this time at the iconic Spa-Francorchamps circuit, Belgium and round two of the WEC.

With some small, planned driver line up changes in both the #97 Pro and the #95 Am cars the team were confident that the differing levels of performance between them and their opposition had been levelled out with some balance of performance adjustments being handed out to all by the FIA post Silverstone.

With much of the free practise sessions being run in damp or wet conditions qualifying was certainly a tale of two halves for the team. The #97 Turner/Mucke/Senna car qualified a very respectable P2 in class with the #99 Craft Bamboo Rees/O'Young/MacDowall car in P5. However, both AM cars struggled to get in and retain heat into their tyres and qualified at the rear of the grid.

Worse news was to break over the weekend for the Craft Bamboo team with the confirmation of the untimely loss of their co-founder and co-owner Nigel Vaulkhard.

With a token of respect to Vaulkhard now on the car the Craft Bamboo team were adamant that they would pay their respects to their boss in the best way possible - on the track!

With the overnight air temperature at the circuit dropping to just above freezing Saturday was at least clear skies and sunshine if a little fresh at first, with temperatures expected to rise to a respectable 12-13degrees later in the day.

Starting line ups would be Stefan Mucke in the #97, Fernando Rees in the #99, Pedro Lamy in the #98 and Richie Stanaway deputising for a busy Nicki Thiim in the #95.

During the first hour steady progress through their respective fields were being made by all the cars with the only notable incident being as a result of a tussle between Stanaway in the #95 and the #75 Proton Porsche into the La Source hairpin. Despite the Porsche being tapped into a spin the #95 car was able to continue with only slight bodywork damage behind the front wheel.

By the end of the first round of GTE pit stops at about the hour mark of the race both the #97 and #99 had worked themselves up to P1 and P2 respectively in GTE Pro, due to the team double stinting their drivers and tyres against that of their rivals who were doing full services. The same was to happen in the Am class with the #95 car leading the way with these positions being held for the next hour or so.

At about the two hour mark Mucke pitted the #97 and was replaced by its 2014 debutant Bruno Senna and with a full service for the car. However, a fumbled wheel nut on the right front lost the car valuable seconds in pit lane against the chasing field as it rejoined the pack in 6th position.

Fernando Rees was obviously enjoying himself in the #99 car with some determined driving against Toni Vilander in the AF Corse Ferrari drawing positive comments of admiration from the Radio Le Mans cometary team. With Senna finding his racing legs again a great scrap between him and former 2013 Le Mans team mate Fred Makowiecki in the works Porsche 911 RSR was to ensue with Senna being deemed the fastest GTE Pro driver on track at this stage.

Going into the final two hours the #97 had climbed back up to P2 in class with the #99 back in P5 again whilst the #98 was P2 and #95 P3 respectively in GTE Am.

The trouble for the team was that the AMR cars were having to pit about 10minutes before their rivals and were out of sequence with them as well meaning that they would might have to pit an extra time before the end.

With Stanaway now back in the Young Driver #95 car the gap between him and the #98 car ahead were tumbling as the Kiwi sensed a higher podium finish with a great last lap inter-team dash being set up between them - but for the #98 having to pit for a 'splash and dash'.

The #97 car now with Darren Turner in was also pushing very hard, trying to catch the #71 Ferrari who was struggled with shot rubber for the final Pro class podium position but it was not to be.

In GTE Pro the #97 Mucke/Senna/Turner car turned in a still highly commendable, and point scoring 4th position just 10 seconds behind the Ferrari in third. The #99 car of MacDowall/O'Young/Rees was classified a lap down to the class leader in 5th - again another one finish for this developing squad.

In GTE Am the #95 "Dane Train" Young Driver car of Poulsen/Stanaway/Heinemeir-Hansson finished P2 with the #98 Northwest car of Nygaard/Dalla-Lana/Lamy still on the podium in third despite that late pit stop.

Despite this continued success, the team is still clearly struggling for outright pace compared to that allowed to their competitors and the difficulties arising from their increased ride heights as was confirmed by Team Principle John Gaw after the race.

"It was clear from practice that we didn’t have the pace to take the fight to our competitors in terms of outright lap time. We continue to adapt to the additional ride height that we have to run this year, so we planned aggressive strategies on tyres and fuel to compensate. However each of the cars had to make one additional stop versus the competition and this ruled us out from the class wins this weekend.
But, it’s a long year and collecting points in the championship is always critical. Of course, we now go back to base and continue to focus on developing solutions to improve our competitiveness ahead of Le Mans.”
Next step - Le Mans!!

Photo Credits - Aston Martin Racing/Craft Bamboo Racing
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